Call of the wild: Olympic National Park Visitor Center offers taste of outdoors [ *** GALLERY *** ]
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Arwyn Rice/Peninsula Daily News
Alex Kim, 11, of Bellevue points out features on a giant relief map of the Olympic Peninsula.
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Molly Hastings, 11, of Issaquah views an elk display at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles. Photo by Arwyn Rice/Peninsula Daily News.
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Visitor center volunteer Tim Paschal helps Tom Ly of San Francisco choose an itinerary for his family’s visit last week to Olympic National Park. Photo by Arwyn Rice/Peninsula Daily News.
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Seasonal U.S. Park Ranger Sharah Truett and Ardeth Hansel, a volunteer and retired geologist, display a sea otter pelt, one of many pelts available at the visitor center. Photo by Arwyn Rice/Peninsula Daily News.
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Judy Winthrop, 66, of Port Angeles finishes a walk with Teddy and Joe Cool on the Living Forest Trail last Sunday. Photo by Arwyn Rice/Peninsula Daily News.

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — A small but rich resource in Port Angeles sits staffed from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week, ready for questions from visitors from near and far.

The Olympic National Park Visitor Center and Wilderness Information Center at 3002 Mount Angeles Road features a gift shop, interactive children's activities, a giant relief map of the park, a 22-minute film about the park, a historic settlers' cabin and two trailheads for easy hiking.

As many as 3,000 visitors may walk through the doors during the busy summer season, but only 75 to 150 are seen daily during the week in the winter months, said Sharah Truett, a seasonal history and science interpretation ranger.

During that quiet time, local residents can, and often do, take advantage of the national resource located only minutes from their homes.

Junior rangers

Among the offerings at the center is the junior ranger program, which allows people of any age to earn a junior ranger badge.

A prospective junior ranger completes activities in a handbook, interviews a ranger and takes a hike on one of the park's trails, Truett said.

Truett said the plastic replica ranger badge, emblazoned with “Olympic” across the front, is awarded when the new junior ranger is “sworn in.”

“Sometimes, kids come in with a sash with 30 or more badges from different parks. And sometimes adults do it, too,” she said.

A play area for toddlers and younger schoolchildren has wooden doors they can open to reveal forest “secrets,” and they can get a close-up view of a preserved elk in a “natural” setting, a cougar and pelts from various animals that live in or near the park.

Dogs, kids and trails

Few trails in Olympic National Park allow dogs, even on-leash, but two of those where dogs are welcome — Peabody Creek Trail and Living Forest Trail — begin at the visitor center.

Other park trails that allow dogs are in the Forks area, including the trail from Rialto Beach to Ellen Creek, Kalaloch beaches and the Spruce Railroad Trail along Lake Crescent.

Dogs must be on a leash no more than 6 feet in length, and owners must pick up after their dog, according to a park trail guide.

Both trails are good for beginners, young children or older hikers, Truett said.

Because of the location at the base of the road to Hurricane Ridge, it's a good place to get children out of the car to stretch their legs after a long drive and sample the kind of longer hikes available in other areas of the park, she said.

Half-mile loop

The Living Forest Trail is an easy half-mile loop trail, accessible with assistance, that begins and ends behind the visitor center.

“Accessible with assistance” means trails do not meet ADA standards but may be passable by individuals with sufficient upper body strength and balance or who have assistance from another person, according to a park trail guide.

Last Sunday, Judy Winthrop, 66, of Port Angeles walked her dogs, Teddy and Joe Cool, on the Living Forest Trail, a regular outing for the trio.

“Both dogs enjoy going for a nice park experience,” Winthrop said.

Small animals such as raccoons and squirrels often are seen on the Living Forest Trail, as are banana slugs.

Peabody Creek Trail can be used as a half-mile loop, or a 2.7-mile spur trail will take hikers — and their dogs — on a longer trip into old-growth woods and along the creek.

“It's nice for spring forest flowers on that trail,” Truett said.

Forest flowers such as trillium, which are smaller and less showy than meadow flowers, appear on the trail around April, Truett said.

There also are picnic tables scattered around the visitor center area and a large field that is good for a picnic and game of Frisbee on a nice day, she said.

Log cabin

The Beaumont Cabin, a preserved 19th-century log cabin located behind the visitor center, is filled with the daily life of early Clallam County settlers.

It was built in 1887 on a 160-acre homestead and occupied for 40 years by Elliott Beaumont and his family.

It was moved from its original location in the Olympic Mountain foothills south of the visitor center in 1962 and provided with period furniture by the Clallam County Historical Society.

Children are fascinated with the cabin, said volunteer Ardith Hansel.

Sometimes, trying to explain the cabin's less-familiar items, such as a chamber pot, can be challenging, she added.

Gifts and film

The gift store includes hiking-stick badges to commemorate specific hikes in the park, children's nature and animal books, stuffed animals, books, postcards, maps, posters and other park-related merchandise.

“It can be popular around the holidays for gift shopping,” said volunteer Tim Paschal.

The front desk, where Paschal works, offers directions for travelers.

“I hear at least one question each day which I have never heard before,” he said.

Paschal said those questions lead to his own education — and he might find the answers at his fingertips on a compute or may have to do additional research.

For instance, he was asked: “How deep is the Strait of Juan de Fuca?”

The answer: It averages 600 feet deep but is 900 feet deep at its Pacific Ocean mouth and 300 feet deep at the eastern boundary of the waterway.

A 22-minute film featuring views of the park's interior and popular visitor sites is available on request in the visitor center's theater, and films occasionally are offered for special showings during some holidays and special evening events.

Wilderness Information Center

The Wilderness Information Center, located inside the visitor center, provides current trail condition reports, safety and weather information, and permits for hiking and camping inside the park.

It also offers visitors bear-resistant canisters.

For more information on wilderness hiking and camping, phone 360-565-3100.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 23. 2013 3:48PM
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